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10 Clever and Confusing Flowcharts

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It's been almost a year since I shared my ever-growing collection of helpful and not-so-helpful flowcharts found on the internet. The list has grown, and some of the latest flowcharts explain everything from how to date your cousin to picking up food from the floor.

1. Should I Work for Free?

This may sound like a silly question, but sooner or later, each of us will confront a situation in which we are asked to provide free labor, time, or talent. Don't dismiss the question; there may be intangible rewards to consider. This handy chart by Jessica Hische starts in the middle (shown here) and leads you through many possibilities before helping you decide. Bonus: you can select this flow chart in different languages and even the original "sailor-mouth" version.

2. Na

Song lyrics lend themselves well to flow charts. Leave it to Randall Munroe to come up with a multi-use flow chart. This one at xkcd charts several songs at once. Of course, it ultimately highlights the importance of a melody.

3. Should You Eat Dropped Food?

You dropped food on the floor. Should you eat it? Audrey Fukuman and Andy Wright constructed a flowchart with their advice. Whether you follow their advice is up to you.

4. Understanding the Web

Since you are here, you probably know how to get around the internet. However, there exists a flowchart designed for explaining it to those who don't: specifically, to a 19th century street urchin, as depicted in the works of Charles Dickens. Doogie Horner produced this chart for his book Everything Explained Through Flowcharts. The flowchart does not so much explain the internet as it explains the importance of relating to your student's background and level of understanding when explaining anything.

5. Forgetfulness

What do you do when you're talking to someone you know, but you can't recall his name? This tongue-in-cheek flowchart from MontyGeer at College Humor gives you some strategies to try out, which ultimately lead to other results besides remembering your friend's name.

6. Can We Date?

One person is not asking the other person to date here. The question concerns the appropriateness of the potential relationship. The helpful flowchart by Jennifer Daniel begins with three reasons you might ask such a question: do the two of you have a professional relationship? Are you related by some kind of kinship? And then there's the "other" category which is just plain weird. Only a few of the many scenarios are shown here. You will have to enlarge the chart to follow any of these convoluted decisions.

7. Dear Happy Internet Traveler

Orange Coat Web Design has such a popular error page that they eventually felt obligated to make it available even where there is no error. A couple of suggestions for what to do is standard on a 404 page, but sympathetic text on a geeky flowchart goes a long way toward deflecting anger over the error. Only a portion of the chart is shown here.

8. What Would Richard Feynman Do?

This flowchart explains physicist Richard Feynman in the most simplistic terms possible. It was produced by Wellington Grey, who has deleted his original posts from the internet without explanation. And that's a pity.

9. Learning to Cook

Learning to prepare food is a lifelong process, with stops and starts depending on your ambition and confidence level. This flowchart from xkcd is not advice; it's a schematic of what actually happens.

10. A Place to Pee

A decision no adult should need a flowchart for is where to relieve oneself. However, if there's one thing the internet has plenty of, it's charts we don't need. They can be entertaining, after all. This one was produced by Jeff Wysaski at Pleated Jeans. Only the beginning is shown here.

See more funny and/or useful flowcharts in these other mental_floss posts:
Run Your Life with Flowcharts!
Fun with Flowcharts
7 Geeky Flowcharts
7 Brilliant and/or Baffling Flowcharts
7 Flowcharts for Fun
10 Funny Flowcharts

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]